Applicative Arguments

A Syntactic and Semantic Investigation of German and English

by Solveig Bosse (Author)
Monographs 246 Pages


Applicative Arguments: A Syntactic and Semantic Investigation of German and English presents formal semantic and syntactic analyses of German and English applicative arguments. These arguments are nominal elements that are not obligatory parts of a sentence. Both German and English have several types of applicative arguments, including so-called benefactive and malefactive constructions. More specifically, the research relies on tests to differentiate the different types of applicative arguments based on this contribution to meaning: Some applicatives contribute only not-at-issue meaning, whereas others contribute only at-issue meaning, and still others contribute both types of meaning. These tests are applied to both German and English to uniquely identify the applicative arguments in each language. Formal analyses of the identified type of applicative arguments are presented that provide an account for each type of applicative identified for each language, explaining the applicatives’ differences and similarities.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgments
  • Contents
  • 1 Introduction
  • 1.1 Defining Applicative Arguments
  • 1.2 Goals and Structure of this Book
  • 2 Preliminaries
  • 2.1 Introduction
  • 2.2 Not-At-Issue Meaning
  • 2.3 Event Semantics
  • 2.4 Pylkkänen (2002, 2008)
  • 3 Affected Experiencers
  • 3.1 Introduction
  • 3.2 Distinguishing Affected Experiencers
  • 3.2.1 Benefactives (Chapter 5)
  • 3.2.2 Part-Whole Applicative Arguments (Chapter 6) & Pertinence Datives
  • 3.2.3 Other German Applicatives
  • 3.3 At-Issue and Not-At-Issue Meaning
  • 3.3.1 Affected Experiencers
  • 3.3.2 Pertinence Dative
  • 3.4 Analysis
  • 3.5 Consequences
  • 3.5.1 Bi-Eventivity
  • 3.5.2 Again-Modification
  • 3.5.3 Negation
  • 3.6 Pertinence Dative
  • 3.6.1 Analysis
  • 3.6.2 Previous Analyses
  • Binding Hole (2005; 2008; 201X) presents a binding approach to pertinence datives.
  • Possessor Raising
  • 3.6.3 Conclusion
  • 3.7 Verbal Restrictions
  • 3.7.1 Valency
  • 3.7.2 Semantic Licensing
  • 3.8 Affected Experiencers following Potts (2005)
  • 3.9 Digression: Parametric Variation of Aff
  • 3.9.1 Japanese: Attachment Height Variation
  • 3.9.2 Not-At-Issue Affected Experiencers
  • Not-At-Issue Meaning
  • Analysis
  • 3.9.3 Parametric Variation
  • 3.10 Conclusion
  • 4 Not-At-Issue Applicative Arguments
  • 4.1 Introduction
  • 4.2 Ethical Dative
  • 4.2.1 Description
  • Distribution
  • Not-at-issue Meaning
  • 4.2.2 Analysis
  • Previous Analyses
  • Analysis
  • 4.2.3 Summary
  • 4.3 Subject Co-Referential Applicative Arguments
  • 4.3.1 Description
  • 4.3.2 Features
  • 4.3.3 Form
  • 4.3.4 Role of the Direct Object
  • 4.3.5 Not-At-Issue Meaning
  • 4.3.6 Analysis
  • 4.3.7 Consequences
  • 4.3.8 Previous Analyses
  • Haddad (2011)
  • Hutchinson and Armstrong (2013)
  • 4.3.9 Summary
  • 4.4 Not-At-Issue Applicatives
  • 4.5 Conclusion
  • 5 Benefactives
  • 5.1 Introduction
  • 5.2 Description
  • 5.2.1 English
  • 5.2.2 German
  • 5.3 At-Issue Content
  • 5.4 True Applicative Benefactives
  • 5.4.1 Analysis
  • 5.4.2 Consequences
  • 5.4.3 Verbal Restrictions
  • 5.4.4 Hole (2005; 201X)
  • 5.4.5 Summary
  • 5.5 Recipient Benefactives
  • 5.5.1 Meaning
  • 5.5.2 Ditransitives and Benefactives
  • 5.5.3 Analysis
  • 5.5.4 Consequences
  • 5.5.5 Summary
  • 5.6 Prepositional Alternation
  • 5.6.1 Analysis
  • 5.6.2 Consequences
  • 5.6.3 PP-shells
  • 5.7 Conclusion
  • 6 Part-Whole Applicatives
  • 6.1 Introduction
  • 6.2 Description
  • 6.2.1 Differentiating Part-Whole Applicative Arguments
  • 6.2.2 Characteristics
  • 6.2.3 Restrictions on Part-Whole Applicative Arguments
  • 6.3 At-Issue Meaning
  • 6.4 Analysis
  • 6.4.1 Possessor Raising
  • 6.4.2 Pylkkänen (2002)
  • 6.4.3 Hole (2008)
  • 6.4.4 Tomioka and Sim (2007)
  • 6.4.5 Analysis
  • 6.5 Consequences
  • 6.6 Conclusion
  • 7 Dative of Inaction
  • 7.1 Introduction
  • 7.2 Description
  • 7.3 At-Issue Meaning
  • 7.4 Analysis
  • 7.5 Consequences
  • 7.6 Conclusion
  • 8 Co-Occurrence of Applicatives
  • 8.1 Introduction
  • 8.2 German
  • 8.2.1 Ethical Dative
  • 8.2.2 Dative of Inaction
  • 8.2.3 Subject Co-referential Applicative
  • 8.2.4 Affected Experiencer
  • 8.2.5 True Benefactive
  • 8.2.6 Part-Whole Applicative
  • 8.2.7 Summary
  • 8.3 English
  • 8.4 Conclusion
  • 9 Conclusion
  • Appendix 1: Affected Experiencers
  • Appendix 2: Not-At-Issue Applicatives
  • Appendix 3: Benefactives
  • Appendix 4: Part-Whole Applicative
  • Appendix 5: Dative of Inaction
  • Glossary
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

← 10 | 11 → 1 Introduction

This book is concerned with detailed formal semantic and syntactic analyses of applicative arguments in German and English. These arguments are typically defined as nominal constituents not selected by the lexical verb or a preposition of the sentence they appear in. In other words, they seemingly increase (or reflect an increase of) the verb’s valency. One of my goals is to provide an overview of different types of applicative arguments found in German and English and to provide formal tests and characteristics that differentiate the types. In (1), an example of each identified type is given: part-whole applicatives (1a, German), true benefactives (1b, German), recipient benefactives (1c, English), affected experiencers (1d, German and English), ethical applicatives (1e, German), subject co-referential applicatives (1f, German and English), and Datives of Inaction (1g, German).


Each of these types will be described in detail to unambiguously identify and characterize that type. This is important because the different types often seem identical on first glance, especially in German.

Applicative arguments are not a new phenomenon. Abraham (1973) was one of the first researchers who tried to differentiate German applicative arguments based on their syntactic behavior. Before that, they were typically classified based on their meaning alone. Given the framework Abraham was working in, ← 11 | 12 → his classifications are not adequate anymore. A re-evaluation of the types of applicative arguments in German is necessary.

English applicatives have also been studied before: the recipient benefactive has extensively been discussed, especially in combination with the structure of ditransitive verbs, which they resemble. The other two types have received less attention. I provide formal analyses of all types, showing why previous analyses need to be revised.

The main dimension that I use to differentiate and analyze applicative arguments is the type of meaning that each applicative argument contributes: at-issue (roughly “asserted”) meaning or not-at-issue (roughly “implied”) meaning (Karttunen and Peters 1979, Potts 2005). Elements contributing not-at-issue meaning behave syntactically different than those that contribute at-issue meaning. I use the family of sentence tests to distinguish at-issue applicatives from not-at-issue applicatives. The tests are discussed in detail in Chapter 2. German and English applicative argument constructions have never been systematically analyzed with respect to this dimension. Both languages have applicative arguments that contribute only at-issue meaning or only not-at-issue meaning. In addition, I show that both languages also have one applicative argument that contributes meaning to both tiers of meaning (Bosse et al. 2012).

A few other researchers have investigated applicative arguments that carry not-at-issue meaning in other languages and/or in German and English (Lamiroy and Delbecque 1998, O’Connor 2007, Halevy 2007, Gutzmann 2007, Horn 2008). These studies often lack formal analyses and do not set the discussed applicative argument in relation to other applicatives in that language. To do that is another goal of this book.

Besides the meaning contribution, applicative arguments can be divided into low and high applicatives, with the former involving a transfer of possession and the latter relating an individual to an event (Pylkkänen 2002). Similarly to the analysis by Cuervo (2003) for Spanish applicative arguments, I show that the occurrences of applicative arguments in English and German are more varied than expected under Pylkkänen’s categorization of only high and low applicative arguments.

The remainder of the introduction is dedicated to defining what appli­cative arguments are. I develop my definition of applicative arguments based on Hole (2008). He developed a definition for German applicative arguments which I adapt to a more general notion of applicative arguments. It will be shown throughout the book that this definition is too stringent, and that it cannot easily be adapted to cover only the appropriate cases in a cross-linguistic setting. Thus, it will remain a working definition.

← 12 | 13 → 1.1 Defining Applicative Arguments

In this book, I focus on applicative arguments in German and English with occasional references to other languages. As stated above, applicative arguments are nominal elements of a sentence that are not selected by the lexical verb or a preposition of that sentence. They are independent constituents of the sentence. Consequently, optional elements that appear inside other nominal constituents are not applicative arguments.

The nominal constituents I am concerned with have been called free, non-core or applicative because of the fact that they can be added seemingly freely to a sentence. This in turn is often taken to mean that when these constituents are deleted from the sentence, the sentence is still grammatical. Such a German example is given in (2).


Sentence (2a) is grammatical without the dative NP mir ‘me’ (2b), showing that the pronoun is an applicative argument. Due to this behavior, applicative arguments are often characterized as valency-increasing because they look like a verbal argument.

Hole (2008) argues against using this simple omission test to determine whether a constituent should be considered an applicative argument. One reason that he brings forth is that asking whether a sentence is grammatical without a given element disregards the change in semantics that (potentially) follows from the deletion of an element. Consequently, Hole (2008) proposes the entailment omission test for free datives1.

3. The Entailment Omission Test for Free Datives2

A dative that is not governed by a preposition is free in a (simple, non-negated declarative) sentence iff the sentence without the dative does not entail that there is at least one individual3 that is involved in the asserted event ← 13 | 14 → and could be referred to by a dative expression. (Hole 2008, 1.9, my translation)

I adopt this definition for applicative arguments with some minor adjustments. I do not restrict applicative arguments to dative-marked consti­tuents because languages that do not employ this case for applicative arguments are also considered here. Furthermore, I take “involvement” here to be rather vague as it can range from having special interest in the event coming true (as with ethical applicatives) to being affected by it (as with affected experiencers) to benefitting from it (true benefactive applicatives) to being a(n intended) recipient of an entity being part of the event (recipient benefactives) to a whole entity one part of which is involved in the event (part-whole applicatives). Thus, my definition of applicative arguments can be stated as follows.

4. Applicative Argument

An NP Y of a simple, non-negated declarative sentence that is not governed by a preposition is an applicative argument iff the sentence without Y does not entail that there is at least one individual that is involved in the asserted event and could be referred to by Y.

This definition covers the core of what all applicative arguments share, namely being independent constituents that are not selected by the verb; yet, the definition is flexible enough to allow for different types of applicative arguments. Furthermore, the definition is consistent with the fact that a given type of applicative argument will receive the same interpretation regardless of the lexical meaning of the verb. This is not true of selected arguments.

My definition of applicative arguments (4) covers all examples in (1). First, in none of the given examples is the applicative argument introduced by a pre­position. Furthermore, the involvement of the referent of the applicative argument is not entailed in any of these examples. In (1a), the door is understood to be a material part of the car; in (5), where the applicative argument is not present, there is no entailment of the door being a material part of another entity (beyond the specificity supplied by the definite determiner). The sentence is still grammatical.


In (1b), the applicative argument is also not a necessary constituent of the sentence (6). It denotes a beneficiary in (1b) but the existence/ involvement of a beneficiary is not implied in (6).


← 14 | 15 → In (1c), the applicative argument denotes a(n intended) recipient. Again, this referent is not entailed in the sentence without the applicative argument (7). Furthermore, (7) shows that the applicative argument is not selected by the verb because it is not required for the sentence to be grammatical.

7. Jan brought a cake.

(1d) is also grammatical without the applicative argument (8). This shows that the applicative argument is not an obligatory constituent. (8) also does not entail that there is anyone who is affected by the event.


The ethical dative of (1e) is not selected by the verb; it can be omitted from the sentence without causing ungrammaticality (9). Furthermore, the involvement of the referent of the ethical dative in (1e) is not entailed in (9).


In (1f), the applicative argument is not required for the sentence to be grammatical (10). Also, the applicative argument is not entailed (despite the presence of the co-referential subject).

10. John killed a bear.

Finally, (1g) does not require the applicative argument to be present (11). The involvement of an individual is also not entailed in (11) showing that der Oma in (1g) is an applicative argument.


The definition in (4) rules out implicit and cognate arguments as being applicative arguments. Such arguments, underlined in (12), are not governed by prepositions. They are not necessary and may be omitted from the sentence.

12. a. He ate food.

b. She danced a dance.

However, these arguments are entailed in the sentences that lack them (13) and are therefore not applicative arguments in (12).

13. a. He ate.

b. She danced.

While the definition of applicative arguments as given in (4) covers all of the cases discussed so far, it is only a working definition. It rules out for instance that the underlined argument in (14) is an applicative argument because it is introduced by a preposition.

Biographical notes

Solveig Bosse (Author)

Solveig Bosse received her PhD in linguistics from the University of Delaware. She is currently Assistant Professor of Theoretical Linguistics in the Department of English at East Carolina University. Her research focuses on syntactic and formal semantic analyses of German and English with occasional other cross-linguistic comparisons.


Title: Applicative Arguments